Veterans Chair Caning opened for business in New York City in 1899. Since the High Line opened and the Hudson Yards monstrosity began to rise across the street, I've worried about the modest little shop, located on the first floor of a tenement building on 10th Avenue and West 35th.
When I saw their building had sold and would soon be sandwiched between two glassy hotel towers, thanks to the Hudson Yards Effect, I figured it was time to check in.
Veterans is hidden behind construction scaffolding. They look closed, but they're open--and very busy.
I talked to Sean Bausert, the shop's fourth-generation owner/manager. When I told him I write a blog called Vanishing New York, he said, "That was almost us. We just came this close to vanishing."
He explained how the new owners wanted to knock down the building, along with its twin next door, but the tenements are full of rent-regulated tenants--and they're not budging. "They're fighters," Sean said. "Holdouts. They helped us tremendously."
By refusing to vacate, the holdouts have kept the buildings standing--and their two small businesses in business.
Veterans has managed to negotiate a few more years on their lease. After that, who knows? All you have to do is look at the luxury towers rising on all sides to know that their time here is limited.
The shop has been in this space for 20 years and was around the corner for another 30 or 40 before that. They're a neighborhood fixture, hand-weaving cane for chairs new and old, some antiques dating back to the sixteen and seventeen-hundreds.
But the neighborhood is changing at a breakneck pace, and even a venerable 116-year-old small business doesn't stand a chance. The city offers no protections. Veterans can be denied a new lease or have their rent quintupled. (Which is why we need to #SaveNYC.) At that point, they could move to Brooklyn or Queens, but would their customers follow?
As Sean put it, "Well-to-do people on the Upper East Side want nothing to do with Brooklyn or Queens. For them, crossing the bridge is like going to Jupiter."
The dramatic changes to the neighborhood "all started with the High Line," Sean told me, a sentiment he shares with many small businesspeople in west Chelsea.
"Once I saw the High Line coming in, I knew it wasn't going to be good. Over the last ten years, all the little guys are gone. The shoemakers, the bakeries. The past five years have gotten even worse."
Like Veterans, the Downtown Tire Shop next door managed to get a few more years on their lease. But that's no long-time guarantee, and they are the last of their kind in the neighborhood. All the rest have been driven out of what had once been a bustling strip that efficiently served the needs of city taxi drivers.
Now, "Cabs, cops, firemen, even regular joes," they all line up next door, because "where else are you gonna get your tires fixed?"
Across the street, another pair of tenements inexplicably remain, with a taxi supply shop on one ground floor. They're only standing because of a holdout upstairs tenant, said Sean. If not for him, they'd be gone.
Sean said, "They wanted to knock down those buildings and put up the tallest tower in North America. Right there? On 10th and 35th? Come on."
Sean sometimes thinks of going up on the High Line, after work, when the weather is nice. But he won't do it.
"I boycott the High Line," he said. "I'll never go on it. After I've seen what it's done--and what it almost did to us."
The Hudson Yards Effect
Last of the Urban Horsemen
Blue-Collar High Line